Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday of Epiphany 3: The work has already begun

Opening Sentence
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Commemoration: The Conversion of Paul
O God, who by the preaching of your apostle Paul have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 119:49-72




Lessons: Genesis 16:1-14, Hebrews 9:15-28, John 5:19-29

It was already a popular Jewish belief in Jesus' day that God would raise the dead. The later rabbis made it an article of faith, but most Jews already believed it anyway. There would come a day, they believed, when God -- who, as the creator, was committed to bringing justice to his world -- would put everything to rights. This would involve bringing all evil to scrutiny and condemnation, and vindicating all who had followed God's way. And it was no use imagining that this condemnation and vindication would take place in some other-worldly setting. God the creator would bring people back into bodily life, to face the consequences of their evil deeds, or share the rewards of their righteous ones. That, at any rate, was what the book of Daniel said (12.2), and that statement was very influential in the first century.

What Jesus is now saying is that with his coming and public ministry this work of raising the dead has already begun. This is central to the work that he's watching the father do, and that he is doing alongside him. It will come to an astonishing peak, within this story, when he raises Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11); then it will reach its full flowering when Jesus himself goes through death and out the other side into the full splendour of resurrection life (chapters 20 and 21). The present passage is preparing us for all that.

But Jesus is now supplying the secret that helps us to see what is going on when people, during the course of his ministry, see and hear what he's doing and come to believe in him, to believe the he is indeed the Word made flesh. This is the extra, hidden truth inside the statement in the Prologue that anyone who receives him, who believes in his name, gains the right to be called God's child. This is the secret truth inside the promise of new birth (1.12-13; 3.1-8).

Those who are born from above in this way are not just receiving a new spiritual experience, the life of God's spirit welling up within them like 'living water' (4.14). They are passing from death to life. The miracle of resurrection is taking place inside them, so that, when they finally die physically, that event will be irrelevant to the new life they already have. What God does in the present he will complete in the future, when the present 'resurrection', the new birth during the present life, finally produces the future bodily resurrection that will correspond to Jesus' own.

What the father has given to the son, then, is the right to execute judgment on his behalf. The explanation Jesus gives here ('because he is the son of man', verse 27) draws on the ancient Jewish picture of 'one like a son of man' in Daniel 7, who is given authority over the world, and particularly to bring God's just judgment on the forces of tyranny and evil that have oppressed God's people. You could put it like this: God has longed to put the world to rights; now, with his apprentice son on the job, he is doing so at last. But bringing new creation to birth can only be done if the evil that has corrupted the old creation is named, shamed and dealt with. That's what judgment is all about.

N.T. Wright

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus